Young Lions: articles

Fleeting flame or road to fortune

Each year, a new batch of faces arrive on our TV screens, pretty, cute young things whose stars shine brightly. But for how long? KYLIE KEOGH reports on the Class of 2002. Prediction: By April 2005, she has already won two Gold Logies in a row, has been nominated for an AFI and has has been snapped up for a role in a Hollywood movie.

Her name is Alexandra Davies.

The star-making factory is full of predictions like this but, really, who knows what keeps a star shining bright in a 40-year television career or makes one combust and disappear after two series?

Whether Davies, one of the stars of Nine's upcoming cop drama Young Lions, achieves all of this or not is impossible to tell. She's just an example of many stars seen shooting on the horizon.

There is no formula to what makes a star and, according to the experts, there isn't any way to ensure longevity in the fickle entertainment business apart from hard work and some lucky breaks.

There have been countless soapie stars who after a few years get out and are never seen again. Then we have Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruglia, Craig McLaughlin, Guy Pearce and Simon Baker who prove there is no better place to start than Neighbours or E-street.

John Clark, director of the National Institute of Dramatic Arts, says that in each annual intake of actors there are two categories. "Out of the 2500 people who apply each year there are probably 10 who select themselves, people who are really wonderful," he says.

"But what's interesting is that some of these people don't continue to grow and develop after NIDA. So what is harder is trying to find from the other group who are really good but not yet special.

"Then we have to pick out those people who will further develop that magical quality that makes a first-class actor."

By first class he means former NIDA graduates such as Cate Blanchett, Mel Gibson and Judy Davis. "Those people identify themselves fairly early. From the moment they get here they work hard and make very good use of the place. But sometimes quite exceptional actors come in and don't thrive in the institutionalised nature," he says.

While Clark wishes he knew the secret to identifying and maintaining stardom, from a recent intakes he names two current TV actors as good talent.

"Spencer McLaren [Richie in Ten's Secret Life of Us] is a wonderful actor. That was his first big break and now he is going to sing in a West End production. Caroline Craig [Tess in Seven's Blue Heelers] is a fine actress. She is a serious, hard-working person and it has paid off.

"But one to watch is Genevieve O'Reilly, who is doing theatre and film. She's in the same league as Cate Blanchett."

Being talented in drama school is one thing but it's impressing the agents and casting people that dictates whether the star who is born can continue to rise.

Anne Fay, from Maura Fay and Associates casting agency, names charisma, presence and personality as integral.

"For example, Heath Ledger came into my office for a chat and Maura was casting for Roar. The producers were looking for a 25-year-old yet Heath was 17," she says. "I met him and he was one of the most charming young men . . . confident, engaging and charismatic. He got the part, went to LA and the rest is history."

While Fay agrees that hard work is essential, a star "has to have an energy and a sparkle to make it".

"There are a few examples at the moment. Tammin Sursok [Home and Away], Matt Newton [Changi], Rose Byrne [Two Hands], Leanna Walsman [Love is a Four Letter Word] and Joel Edgerton [Secret Life of Us] are very hot.

"But agents are incredibly important. Everyone needs a sparring partner. They help make the decisions and they give the actors confidence.

"[The late actor] Hayes Gordon said actors have to have to heart of a dove and the hide of a rhinoceros."

But they also have to have business acumen. Alan Wilson of Mark Morrissey Management says talent will only get a person so far. "Along with everything else, they have to be tenacious and become actively involved. You can't just sit around and wait for the phone to ring.

"Hard-working people know what's going on. They are creating their own films, going to screenings and being there," says Fay."

Aaron Pederson, formerly of Water Rats and now in the upcoming ABC series MDA, Alex Dimitriades, who will star in Young Lions, and Diarmid Heindenreich, aka Dougie the Pizza Boy and Water Rats rookie, are his examples of actors who are pro-active in determining their success.

It's a simple equation. You either have "it" or you don't and once you do, work your butt off and the world is your oyster.

"A lot of people wonder 'why is so and so, who is talented, not getting any work?' I think the answer is that there's an element of laziness," Wilson says.

"A successful person has to get off their bum and not sit in a cafe smoking ciggies, drinking coffee and talking about the industry–and a lot of them do that."

April 11, 2002